Ghost Funk Orchestra lives up to their name on double-EP reissue and new single

They’re ghostly. They’re funky. Their finely-honed-brass-and-woodwind-enhanced musical arrangements are "orchestral." 

Of course I’m talking about Ghost Funk Orchestra (GFO) a group that’s one of the leading purveyors of “ghost funk” today and if you think I’m in the habit of making up genres willy-nilly based solely on a band’s name I say to you au contraire, mon square because “ghost funk” has been around since at least the early ‘70s and it’s long been overdue for a revival and an update…

…a revival/update that’s taken off over the past decade with ghost funk group like GOAT, El Michels Affair, 79.5, Say She She, and of course GFO–the latter having just re-released their inaugural pair of "extended play” records (Night Walker and Death Waltz, both released in 2016 on Brooklyn-based King Pizza imprint Ramble Records) in newly remastered form on Loveland, Ohio-based Karma Chief/Colemine Records available for the first time as a single disc.

Fronted by musical polymath Seth Applebaum, GFO started as a auteurist studio project but soon blossomed into a full-on, well, orchestra—a crackerjack live unit who this past Friday melted off most of the faces of those in attendance at their Bowery Ballroom concert opening for Pacific Northwest-based pastoral-psychedelia folk-rock dream-poppers La Luz (we strongly advise you dive into their 2021 eponymous LP asap if you haven’t already).

But what exactly is ghost funk, you may ask, and where did it come from? A classic example of “hey you got your peanut butter in my chocolate!” type amalgamation–given that ghosts are etherial undead creatures inducing dread and fear, while funk is down ’n’ dirty, highly corporal music inducing joy and sexiness–once these two elements were brought into perfect alchemical balance in the early 1970s the result was such post-peace-and-love haunted funk classics such as Sly Stone’s There’s A Riot Goin’ On, James Brown’s The Big Payback, and Lafayette Afro Rock Band’s Malik

…which is not to mention all the ghost funk offshoots that soon followed ranging from Fela Kuti’s revolutionary Afrobeat anthems to Lee Perry’s haunted Black Ark dub sides, or from Teddy Lasry’s ambient "funky ghost" jazz-funk Gallic instrumentals to, yes, Austin Robert’s funky bubblegum ditties as heard in all the "running from the ghouls but really it’s just a guy in a mask" chase scene in the original run of Scooby Doo. All of which work their way into GFO’s sound at one point or another and when it comes to the latter the live-show fronting vocal duo of Romi O. (PowerSnap) and Megan Mancini (The Rizzos) do arguably put across a Velma and Daphne dynamic on stage.

But I digress. The first of the two Ghost Funk Orchestra EPs, Night Walker, opens on a ghostly faded-in ambient soundscape featuring the ghostly sounds of a train entering a station (full of ghosts, no doubt!) joined to a slow-paced, echo-laden ghostly groove that slowly fades out leading up to the next track “Brownout" which serves as a heat-hazed serenade to steamy bedrooms and sleepless nights in the midst of a power outage (always a ghostly experience!) sung in sultry Spanish tones.

But despite the five mentions of "ghosts" in the paragraph above it’s the third track “Dark Passage” which most indelibly gives up the ghost funk with its wet-reverbed, dubbed-out drum groove and rubbery bass and ping-ponged, fuzzed-out electric guitar and Chakachas style “Jungle Fever” stop-start dynamics minus the cowbell and Dutch moaning, all overlain with a John Barry worthy spy theme melody (see also: "Death Waltz") plus a couple funked up solos (on guitar and groovy flute) and if you were to happen across a funky ghost floating down an abandoned late-night side street I’d be surprised if they weren’t listening to this track on their headphones.

And then next we get the noir-drenched shimmering slow-gaited strut of “Night Walker” and then the even more literally noirish “Demon Demon” with its Dashiell Hammett book-on-top style recitation (as shadows lengthen in the asphalt homeland / the city winds down / the once vibrant streets / are now a home for ghosts) over a shimmying rhythm section and ghostly guitars treated with heavy echo and trembling tremolo and it turns out that even in the midst of the metropolis demons live off from fresh flesh so be careful when you’re out there carousing after midnight looking to get funked up.

And hey I could walk you through every track on Night Walker / Death Waltz and it’d be fun and all. But I got other things to do plus as I was putting the final touches on this writeup Ghost Funk Orchestra went and dropped a brand new song and music video called “Scatter” (video above directed by Greg Hanson of King Pizza Records, see how we’ve come full circle here!) which is the first advance single off their upcoming third full-length A New Kind of Love slated for release on 10/28 just a few days before Halloween and how ghostly is all of that, zoinks?! (Jason Lee)
Ghost Funk Orchestra is currently on tour in the Land of the Great Lakes hitting Detroit tonight (8/30) and Grand Rapids on Thursday (9/1) with dates soon thereafter in Burlington, Virginia; Saranac Lake, New York; and Ridgewood, Queens.